Serving The Bakken And Beyond

ND Attorney General Under Fire for Wilkinson Delay

Efforts by North Dakota Attorney Gen. Wayne Stenehjem to delay judicial action for another nine months following approval of disputed mineral ownership in Lake Sakakawea next year by the ND Industrial Commission angered the attorney representing several mineral owners who won a decisive ND Supreme Court decision earlier this year.

“The state has already put this family through enough, and both the legislature and now the North Dakota Supreme Court have made clear the state’s claim cannot stand,” said attorney Josh Swanson, who represents the Wilkinson family.

A private engineering consultant hired by the ND Dept. of Mineral Resources is evaluating disputed acreage along the Missouri River and Lake Sakakawea, where both the state and federal government contend they have competing mineral interests. Once the consultant’s findings are completed and aired in public hearings, the commission will adopt them.

The delay sought by Atty. Gen. Hope Hogan will put off action enabling the release of royalties to mineral owners for another nine months after the commission’s decision.

Swanson contends that two possible actions can happen as a result of the commission action. The first would be that the Wilkinsons own the disputed minerals on acreage west of the Hwy. 85 bridge near Williston. However, if it is determined that the state owns those minerals, it would be an unconstitutional taking under the supreme court decision, and the state would owe damages in excess of $1 million, Swanson said.

“There is absolutely no reason this needs to be stayed another nine months after the study is completed,” said Edward Lynch, a mineral owner.

While the Supreme Court remanded the Wilkinson case back to district court, both Swanson and the attorney general have agreed to stay the proceedings.

“Considering the Supreme Court’s decision, we expect the state will drop its claim to the Wilkinsons’ minerals,” Swanson said, “and stipulate that the state does not have any interest in the same so the funds related to those minerals can be released to the Wilkinsons.”